Forbidden Britain: Carcass of a crow marks line of dispute over path: Dead crows and a loud bird scarer await walkers on a disputed northern 'lonning'. Oliver Gillie reports

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The Independent Online
A DEAD CROW hung from a branch across the lane like a voodoo sign. And beside the path were the black carcasses of more than a dozen others impaled by their beaks on the barbed wire fence.

It is a tradition in the north of England to hang the carcasses of vermin in trees and hedgerows. Nevertheless Wally Hawkins, of the Ramblers' Association, felt that the swinging crow might have been misunderstood.

Mr Hawkins has been trying to get this path incorporated into a book of walks around Carlisle against the opposition of a local farmer.

The path is an ancient road, known in the North as a lonning, and is up to 40 feet (12.2m) wide in places.

'In May I was prevented by the farmer, Joe Marrs, from walking this path,' Mr Hawkins said. 'He stood in my way and told me I could not pass. He refuses to admit that it is a right of way. In the circumstances the dead crow hanging over the path is offensive.'

The lonning starts near Moorhouse, west of Carlisle, and connects the parishes of Orton and Burgh by Sands. It commands beautiful views to the north across the Solway to the Langholm hills in Scotland, and south to Crossfell on the north end of the Pennines, and to Saddleback, Carrick Fell and Skiddaw in the Lake District.

The lonning begins as a wide bridleway with mature beech, oak and holly trees but after a short distance the way is blocked by barbed wire. In the next field the lonning has been ploughed up and sown with barley which has recently been harvested.

Beside this field, in the middle of the path, has been placed a 'triple bang bird scarer' which compresses air to make a terrifying noise like a shotgun. In large letters it carries the words: 'Warning Keep Clear'.

'The lonning is supposed to be open to the public,' Mr Hawkins said. 'That scarer should not be there. It is frightening and dangerous.

'This footpath is a vital link between the west side of Carlisle and the surrounding countryside. The neighbouring landlord has marked all his paths - so what's the problem?'

The fields of corn ended where the parish of Orton began and the lonning once more became clearly visible as a country lane some 40 feet wide. It had hedges on each side, mature trees and patches of purple willowherb and gorse - a strip of uncultivated land providing a haven for wildlife and a peaceful place for people to wander.

However, Mr Marrs disputes that the lonning is a right of way. 'It is on the definitive map (a map of rights of way which must be kept by local authorities) but it was wrongly registered,' he said.

'There used to be notices up in the woods and lanes saying that it was private land and if anyone went on it they were prosecuted. I did not stop Mr Hawkins from walking on the path. He was making a survey and I just said I would prefer him to wait until the dispute with the council was settled.'

Mr Marrs' solicitor, P W Pickles of Armathwaite, has declarations from three local people to say that there was never a right of way along the lonning. 'It never was a public footpath,' he said.

'The definitive map is not conclusive. There has been a case before the courts in which it was accepted that the definitive map can be disputed. The facts have to be established in each case.'

However, Cumbria County Council maintains that the lonning is a right of way which was registered in 1953 and that it should remain so.

Brian Hough, spokesman for the council, said: 'We have had to remove a gate put in the lonning by Mr Marrs in order to maintain public access.

'Mr Marrs has applied for a modification order to have the right of way removed from the map. We are now consulting interested parties such as the Ramblers' Association.'

(Photograph omitted)